Kashmir protests: Indian police in Kashmir don't get a break

Kashmir protest crackdowns have brought youths to the streets to pelt Indian security forces with rocks. The police, meanwhile, are working 17-hour shifts as they grudgingly grapple with 'a political problem.'

Dar Yasin/AP
Kashmiri protesters shout slogans near a burning government vehicle after they set it on fire during a protest at Barthana neighborhood in Srinagar, India, Wednesday, Aug. 4.

Behind "Aidl" and his comrades in the Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) stands a home with broken windows and pockmarked plaster from hundreds of pelted stones. He points to it when asked if he's had many stones thrown at him while patrolling this increasingly restive downtown capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir in the disputed Himalayan region.

In the past few months, thousands of boys and young men have taken to pelting Indian security forces and police with rocks, with increasing regularity. They are protesting the stifling of peaceful protest, and decades of Indian control over the region. Meanwhile, Indian police say they can't get a break.

Syed Ali Shah Gilani, a Kashmiri separatist figure with some clout among the teenage rock throwers, appealed Wednesday for protests to remain peaceful.

"You won't find one of us who hasn't been hit by a stone and injured in some way," says Aidl, who was afraid to give his name.

To break up crowds, the paramilitary CRPF wield bamboo sticks, stones, tear gas, and rifles. The police have only a handful of tasers. "At times there are thousands of people coming after just a few of us. So then we have to use [batons] and stones to push them back," he says.

And sometimes, security forces say, they have no choice but to use deadly force. But casualties have been disproportionate; Since late Wednesday, two more people died of gunfire from paramilitary forces, bringing the total number of civilians killed since June 11 to 48, compared with no police deaths. According to the Associated Press, one of the civilians shot Wednesday had been shouting at security forces, the other was killed by a stray bullet while at home.

The security crackdown has exhausted police and paramilitaries. Most days this summer CRPF men and police serve 16- to 17-hour shifts.

The long hours may help explain the excessive police responses to protests and provocative stone throwing at homes and modifications of "Go India Go" street graffiti to "Good, India, Good."

Police leaders, none of whom could go on record, express frustration that they are being relied on solely to solve what they say is ultimately a political problem. "Our job is only to keep dealing with the situation but there is no solution coming," says local cop Aijaz Ahmed.

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